October 23, 2012

Review: Kendrick Lamar – ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’

Posted in Reviews tagged , , at 8:50 pm by essentiallyeclectic

When Kendrick Lamar told The Stool Pigeon back in August about the time he witnessed the filming of Tupac’s ‘California Love’ video just down the road in his native Compton, he spoke in reverential tones, recalling seeing the late rapper and his producer, Dr Dre, returning as superstars to the streets that raised them. Fifteen years on, and this time Lamar himself is Dre’s protégé; the notoriously troubled LA neighbourhood a weighty presence throughout his major label debut.

It’s been a year full of furiously hyped releases with a hit-and-miss success rate, from Frank Ocean’s widely lauded Channel Orange to Lana Del Rey’s rather anticlimactic Born To Die, and good kid, m.A.A.d city is another. Fortunately, this one follows through on its promise.

Lamar’s buzz began some time ago, the result of a furiously fast-paced work ethic, one well-received full length and a hatful of mixtapes, as he began to emerge as the foremost talent of an exciting collective known as Black Hippy. Interesting, then, that only one of his crew appear to make the cut for his big money Aftermath release; a handful of features instead handled by some of hip hop’s veterans, from MC Eiht to Mary J Blige, and, of course, Dre himself.

Opener ‘Sherane A.K.A. Master Splinter’s Daughter’ is a coming-of-age, sexually charged love song, an articulate paean to teenage desire, before ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’ sees Lamar’s affected flow lope over a wistful Sounwave beat. Greg Kot, writing in the Chicago Tribune, describes Lamar as a “character actor”, using the platform this release affords him to perform a “12-act play about his hometown”. It’s a useful way to consider good kid, m.A.A.d city, as Lamar’s versatile vocal style twists and turns not only rhythmically, but also in pitch, tone, mood and character.

The swaggering arrogance of ‘Backstreet Freestyle’ is perhaps the best example of this, a showcase of flows and flavours, brags and boasts, all crammed into a breathless three minutes, while an extended version of the already released single ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ sees Lamar flitting between a number of pitch-shifted voices representing different parts of his psyche, all throwing in their two cents about his approach to the devil’s nectar.

One of the things that makes good kid, m.A.A.d city so stimulating is its restlessness. A number of tracks refuse to stick to one beat or idea for their duration, such as the lengthy ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst’ or ‘The Art Of Peer Pressure’; a track that starts out with a gently rolling piano-led production that morphs into Aquemini-era Outkast atmospherics. Over the top of the latter, Lamar nails home one side of the album’s split-personality theme: that of the push/pull dynamic between a life of crime and the warmth of family and community, with a bleak description of some unsavoury activity that the young rapper simply explains with the shrug of a lyric: “that’s ironic / cos I’ve never been violent / until I’m with the homies”. The two fulcrum tracks that combine to give the album its title display this thematic schism in more straightforward terms, and a number of skits coming at the end of many tracks include dialogue that drives this idea home in yet more explicit terms.

The slightly weak closing duo of ‘Real’ (featuring Anna Wise) and ‘Compton’ alongside uncle Dre seem slightly tacked on, and maybe the ambitious ‘Sing About Me…’ would have made a better sign-off, but this does little to damage good kid, m.A.A.d city’s credentials as one of the strongest rap albums of the year.

Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON

August 18, 2012

Review: JJ DOOM – ‘Keys to the Kuffs’

Posted in Reviews tagged , , , at 11:03 am by essentiallyeclectic

Masked rapper Doom has not built his cult status on solo efforts alone; he has also proved himself a strong collaborator over the years. Teaming up with the likes of Danger Mouse as DANGERDOOM, or Ghostface Killah as DOOMSTARKS (pattern forming here?), the MC born Daniel Dumile has steadily built a reputation for esoteric and complex rhyme styles coupled with a sly, slightly bitter sense of humour. His latest collaborative project sees Dumile take on the Brainfeeder-type beats of producer/MC Jneiro Jarel as — you guessed it — JJ DOOM.

Keys To The Kuffs is informed strongly by Dumile’s self-imposed exile in London during its creation, with regular snippets of hammed-up cockney screen dialogue dotted around the off-centre jerk of Jarel’s beats. Tracks like ‘Rhymin’ Slang’ and ‘Gov’ner’ — the former an early highlight, the latter’s hook a veiled homage to Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep mockney — further the jellied-eels vibe, while Dumile’s lyrical dexterity has rarely been stronger than on the rapid-fire wordplay of ‘Banished’. Singer Boston Fielder adds some psychedelic soul touches to ‘Bout The Shoes’ as Dumile takes a break, returning for ‘Winter Blues’ — the nearest thing to a love song on any DOOM release.

The expected idiosyncratic references are back (everything from ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ to troublesome Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull), and there are further cameos from the likes of Damon Albarn and Beth Gibbons. Goodie Mob member Khujo brings some dirty south slur to ‘Still Kaps’, while closer ‘Wash Your Hands’ is the best example here of Dumile’s observational wit, preaching good hygiene practice over one of Jarel’s more hypnotic productions.

‘Retarded Fren’ has been doing the blog rounds for a few months (receiving a Thom Yorke & Jonny Greenwood remix in the process), and is one of the album’s stronger, if slightly darker, cuts. Jarel flips an ominous sample into a dimly lit alleyway head-nodder, another example of the strength of production evident throughout Keys To The Kuffs, possibly DOOM’s most attractive collaborative effort to date.

Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON